Adopted Kitten!

A miniature feline was prowling around a part of my parents home, and one day got enough courage together to go looking for food inside the house itself.

It got caught, which let us get a closer look at her, and allowed us to determine that she’s really, really pretty.

Weeks of debate ensued.

A decision was finally taken.

The cat stays.

More Adventures in Fiverr Cover Design

Following my less-than-excellent first experience with third party cover designers, I decided to give it another go.

This experience was more thought-through than the last one. I put a lot more effort into the process myself. Nevertheless, I wasn’t satisfied with the results and so I defaulted to another solution: do it yourself.

Not to be embarked upon lightly, this involved reading and watching videos about cover design, getting rid of my preconceived notions of how I wanted the cover to look, watching a ton of videos about graphic design in GIMP (because you don’t buy professional software for a one-off project) and scouring free image repositories for assest I could use (because you don’t sign up to depositphotos for a one-off project).

I’m undecided on the final result, but it’s at least more appropriate for the book. You be the judge.

Read on to hear about the process, and to see the results…

Read More

Hello from Budapest

For reasons I won’t go into, I am presently in Budapest. The way things are going, I will most likely be able to write more here than I have over the past few weeks, which I am looking forward to because things have been slow going.

I’ve yet to find my feet, and am writing this from a charming little coffee shop terrace where social distancing is not too painful and I don’t feel the need to slop ethanol-laced gel over my hands every few minutes. I have yet to take any decent pictures, but this is not my first time here, so allow me to share one I took a few years ago when I was here in winter!

An image of the Hungarian Parliament building shrouded in fog and illuminated with spotlight during a winter night.
The Hungarian Parliament in the Winter Fog

So. Good News… You’ve Caught This Virus…

My brain did a weird inversion of the whole coronavirus thing a couple of weeks ago and had what I thought at the time was a great idea.

I tried to put that idea to paper in the form of a short story.

After writing something I was not at all happy with, I decided the idea was not so good after all.

But perhaps the idea is fine, just not in my hands. My brain won’t stop grafting new ideas onto this one, turning it into some epic nonsense of a multi-novel series, with occasional subconscious plagiarising from Maze Runner. I had

So instead of giving you a story, I’m going to dump the idea here. Your imagination can write the rest.

Read More

Adventures in Fiverr – Book Cover Designers

There are lots of things I’m not particularly good at that I do anyway. Making my own book covers has been one of those things. They’re not particularly good, but my ‘books’ are really only short stories and I was giving them away for free.

While I’m fine with giving away some of my work to connect with an audience that likes my writing, I’m not so sure about spending money to put a cover on a free piece of writing.

Perhaps I was wrong about that, but it’s hard to know.

I’ve got a series of shorts coming together, with a jeans-and-leather wearing female exorcist with a bit of an attitude problem as the main character. I wanted a cover and after a few hours playing around, I decided I wasn’t good enough at cover design to do it myself.

I turned to Fiverr.

About a week later, my opinion of my own cover design skills has gone up considerably.

Read More

Still not entirely here

I launched this site a while back with a hidden agenda.

I figured that if I wanted to climb the learning curve and learn how to write decent fiction in my preferred genre, I ought to read as much of it as I could. I can be quite a glutton when it comes to reading and the budget necessary to purchase that many books looked significant. To remedy this I figured I’d review books, get a reputation as a reliable reviewer and try to get some free copies of upcoming works from the various platforms that specialize in that.

That worked exactly as planned. Unfortunately the plan sucked.

To list the advantages: I read a great deal, discovered some new and exceptionally good authors that I enjoyed reading and did so without spending (too much) money. I saw how others were crafting their works and was able to identify things that worked, some that worked perhaps less well. I saw what worked commercially, and was able to identify the small subset that might work, commercially, for me.

On the other hand, money is not the only currency we have, and time is far scarcer. There were faster ways to gain that understanding than writing reviews in the dead of night when my daughter had finally found sleep.

Between my full-time job, new arrivals in the family and trying to read all these new books, there was simply no time for writing. You only have to read the first chapter of a book on writing, or the first couple of posts on a blog by any competent writer to learn that while reading is great, writing is a learning-by-doing kind of activity and without practice you’re going to get nowhere.

I soon dropped the whole reviews website concept to spend at least a little of what time I had left at the end of the working day on writing short stories. That got me somewhere (I have a few nice letters from editors explaining that various stories are good but… too long, too short, too dark, etc. I have a not insignificant number of form rejections), but not where I wanted to go.

Split over too many projects and with too many demands on my time, I wasn’t getting anywhere. I also had nowhere to post my own work where it might at least garner a little feedback, provide a birthplace for my writing hopes and allow me to speak to at least one fan, even if it’s a member of my own family.

The advice from modern authors is clear. Write lots, write often, interact with your readers, gather feedback, learn from your mistakes.

Time for a little course correction.

Washington Post’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Books of 2015

I’m all about book discovery so I was very happy to find (via file770) that the Washington Post has published its choices for the best science fiction and fantasy of 2015.

You can find the Washington Post article here.

Their recommendations are below.

Washington Post Top Picks of 2015

Aurora
Kim Stanley Robinson
Orbit
The Fifth Season
N.K. Jemisin
Orbit
The Only Ones
Carola Dibbell
Two Dollar Radio
Three Moments of an Explosion
China Miéville
Del Ray
Touch
Claire North
Redhook

With a list this short, it’s inevitable that I find myself thinking phrases that start with the words, “but where’s…”. Nevertheless, there’s a lot to be said for a list that limits itself to 5 books. It requires discipline, and requires that very good books be left to one side, which means that what was chosen must have been chosen for strong reasons on the part of the journalist.

I have already read (and reviewed) Aurora. The others have passed me by. I have seen the Fifth Season listed in so many places that I think I will now purchase it, as something recommended in this many different places must have a good chance of being good.

Pause reading…

If you glance at the bookshelf page of the website, you’ll notice that the rate at which I’ve been finishing books lately has shot up, peaking at two books in one day on 3rd August. A bit ridiculous, actually, and as a result I’m a little sleep-deprived.

There’s a few reasons for this. One of which is that reading is a handy escape from stress that I’ve been indulging in lately since I’ve got more stress to hide from than usual. That will pass. In any case, it’s not the principal reason.

There’s no way I could have raced through, for example, The Bone Clocks. It’s too dense, there are too many important characters that I actually want to know about, and when you read a book like that too fast, you miss out on things that are important not only to the story but to the flavour of what you’re reading. Reading it fast is like eating pasta with no sauce. You have to have the sauce!

But recently, I’ve been reading a different kind of book.

This is not to criticise, there’s a place for all these stories, but some stories go further, are more inventive, create more interesting or complex consequences and relationships, and overall just make you think more than others. I have a loose grasp of why that is, why one story or one author tends to make me slow down and read more carefully whereas others make me want to turn the pages faster and faster to see what happens. To describe I have to carefully manoeuvre around the word “better” because it’s easy to say and unfortunately too broad and too inaccurate to describe the difference between these books.

I recently read the first two novels in both the Vatta’s War and Lost Fleet series. Both of these are fun reads, and I powered through them with almost no pause from the first to the last page other than those hours that are not entirely mine to dispose of as I please (work, minimum sleep requirements, the occasional raid on the fridge). They’re not the literary equivalent of fast food, but they’re not the equivalent of a gourmet meal either. I found the stories fun, the writing decent, the narrative strong in places, weak or perhaps a little simplistic in others (particularly characterisation), I valued them for their entertainment value and will undoubtedly read the rest of both series though they’re expensive compared to other works given how many books I will have to buy.

I also read The Bone Clocks, Seveneves and Ghost Fleet: A Novel of the Next World War. These took more time, were more dense with innovative ideas, depicted a number of main characters of equal complexity and depth, and were captivating and immersive in ways that didn’t make me want to turn the page faster, but occasionally made me want to read slower to ensure that I understood what was going on. Perhaps one aspect of this is that they challenged me to keep up with the research that had gone into writing them in the first place.

I think it’s probably fair to say that some combination of more effort, more skill and/or more time went into those books than the more linear storylines and limited casts of the pulpier novels that I enjoy.

It’s important not to overdose on these things.

Three or four chapters from the end of Old Man’s War, which I just finished (review pending, I have catching up to do, anyway it’s been out for years), I found myself reading so fast that I was skipping bits of description or dialogue. I’d force myself to go back to see if I’d missed anything critical, and I hadn’t. Often I’d subconsciously skipped a paragraph because it was telling me something about a character that I already knew (Vatta’s War and The Lost Fleet are particularly guilty of this). When I got to the end of it, I was both happy I knew how it finished, and strangely indifferent to starting another book straight away. So I stopped.

I’m going to take a few days off reading – to force myself to do other things, but also to let my literary tastebuds recover from too consistent a diet of military science fiction and linear adventure plots so I can enjoy the next book properly.

To me, this has been a bit of an object lesson in ensuring there’s variety in my reading diet.

 

September 2020
M T W T F S S
 123456
78910111213
14151617181920
21222324252627
282930